The Casual Vacancy

casual-vacancy

Genre: Fiction
Setting: Pagford, United Kingdom
Pages: 503

The Casual Vacancy is a witty and gripping social commentary on contemporary British society, played out in the fictional town of Pagford, an idyllic little village in England where various types of unrest are fomenting beneath the town’s sunny and charming exterior.  

Barry Fairbrother, one of Pagford’s parish councillors, dies unexpectedly leaving a casual vacancy that various town members seek to fill for their own personal or political gain. The novel tracks how the conflict over the council seat, and the underlying issue of the area known as the Fields, affects the lives of the residents of Pagford, young and old, rich or poor, and shows how small behaviors can resonate and have big consequences.

The Good: Rowling is a fantastic writer, and while this novel is utterly different in subject matter and scope than her famous Harry Potter series, her style is easily recognized within these pages. She proves her satirical prowess with this novel, and her wit in exposing the flaws in the Pagford residents’ behaviors and thought patterns is perhaps the greatest strength of the book. Each character viewed individually seems so uniquely human. Rowling really knows how to make the reader appreciate gray characters. This book acts as a mirror that can be held up to recognize parts of our own personalities that we might rather not admit to having. I personally don’t believe that J.K. Rowling ever had anything to prove, but for those who were unsure whether or not she’d be able to pull of a more “adult-themed” novel, I imagine with this book their fears can be laid to rest.

The Bad: My main complaint with this book is that she was a little overzealous in creating dysfunctional families and relationships. I understand that it wouldn’t be very interesting to focus on healthy romantic or family relationships and that struggle and conflict are necessary to drive narrative, HOWEVER, in a book that is populated by a considerably large cast of characters, there is not one single healthy relationship between a husband and wife or (less surprisingly) between teenagers. Instances of infidelity, domestic abuse, or dissatisfaction in romantic partnerships are all real issues, but Rowling’s decision to exclude the presence of even a single happy relationship causes the novel to traverse beyond the land of realism into the slightly ridiculous.

Would recommend? Absolutely! The merits of this book far outweigh any scruples I have with it

New York City

About a month ago I went to New York City to meet up with some friends who were visiting from Northern Ireland. I have complicated feelings about NYC. Sometimes it feels so overwhelming and full of all the things I dislike about human nature. Paradoxically, and perhaps necessarily, it is also full of all the things I love about people. As a lover of art though I can never stay away for too long before something calls me back.

Here are some pictures from my weekend:

WindowandNYC2017.0-7

A large portion of the first day was spent in Central Park catching up with friends. I mean hours. The day was cold, but the sky was clear in the morning so the park was quite populated. There is something so nice about being in a place surrounded by strangers who don’t know each but who are each sharing the simple joy of being out in nature on one of the first warm days of the year. We talked long enough for the bright morning to turn into a misty late afternoon.

WindowandNYC2017.0-9WindowandNYC2017.0-8WindowandNYC2017.0-11WindowandNYC2017.0-12

Day two was spent almost entirely in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I don’t know if I could live in New York, but I think I could live in the Met.

WindowandNYC2017.0-14WindowandNYC2017.0-15WindowandNYC2017.0-17WindowandNYC2017.0-24WindowandNYC2017.0-25WindowandNYC2017.0-26WindowandNYC2017.0-27

As the last photograph shows, I am not above a shameless mirror selfie even if that mirror is couched in a French Rococo drawing room.